FALFURRIAS, Texas – Hundreds of federal state and local law enforcement officials descended on this small Texas city as they quickly moved along the main strip raiding close to a dozen underground casinos.
The older buildings some of which appeared abandoned except for the large number of vehicles parked outside were used as gaming parlors holding dozens of gambling machines that attracts hundreds of visitors per day. While gaming machines are legal and taxed in Texas, state law makes it illegal for the business to pay cash prizes or to hand out prizes above a certain value.
The massive show of force was part of Operation Lil Vegas which as the name implies targeted the many gaming establishment that in the previous months have popped up along Falfurrias main business avenue creating a literal gaming strip. Watch exclusive video of the raid here.
Officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety spoke with Breitbart Texas at the scene of the raid stating that law enforcement was in the area to carry out a series of search warrants. Officials wouldn’t confirm additional details of the operation but stated that the raid was carried out by the FBI, Secret Service, Homeland Security Investigations, DPS, Texas Rangers, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Brooks County Sheriff’s Office and Falfurrias Police.
As Breitbart Texas previously reported, underground casinos have spread like wildfire throughout South Texas particularly along the Texas border where the businesses act like a magnet for criminal activity and are regular targets of armed robbery. At times gaming parlors have been used by Mexican drug cartels on both sides of the border to launder money, Breitbart Texas previously reported.
The underground casinos started popping up in the mid to late 2000’s in Cameron County, however in recent years the Cameron County DA’s Office kicked off Operation Bishop in order to take down those establishments. The push by law enforcement in Cameron County moved the gaming establishments into Brooks County where the owners of the underground casinos took advantage of the diminished presence of law enforcement in that area.Underground casinos have also popped up in Starr County and in some cities in Western Hidalgo County where officials either ignore the problem or have pushed to make the gaming parlors legal in their particular city.
The raid surprised Merced Gutierrez, a middle aged retired woman who had traveled from the border city of Edinburg to Falfurrias in order to spend a Sunday evening playing “maquinitas” or eight liners with her friends. Gutierrez agreed to speak with Breitbart Texas about the raid but did not want to show her face, her friends refused to speak.
“Yes, we come here, we never thought there was anything wrong with that,” Gutierrez said. “We’re not hurting anyone. We just came here to play; now I’m just embarrassed.”
Gutierrez had been inside one of the underground casinos trying her luck when the agents walked in telling everyone to stay where they were as they secured the place and then took her outside.
“They asked me some questions about how often I came here and if I knew some people that run this place,” Gutierrez said. “Then they told me to not come back because the next time I would get a fine and I could get arrested.”